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Background: Last year, the Red Sox said Stenson had the potential to be their next big-time prospect. This year, he went out and proved them right. He was a standout football and baseball player in high school, though he's not your usual raw football player learning how to play baseball. He's always been a baseball-first player and was Georgia's 4-A player of the year in 1996. He has leapt through the Red Sox system, going from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1996 to Class A Michigan in 1997 and Double-A Trenton in 1998. Eastern League managers rated him the league's best hitting prospect and No. 2 prospect overall. And by the way, he was also one of the youngest players in the league. As evidence of his growing power, Stenson became the second player to hit a home run into the Delaware River beyond right field in Trenton this year. The other was Tigers first baseman Tony Clark. Strengths: Stenson is a strong kid with a great lefthanded swing that should allow him to hit for average and power. He has an easy, short stroke with natural lift and nearly unlimited power potential. He's quiet to the ball, uses his hands well, has good bat speed and can turn on balls on the inner half. He has good pitch recognition and strike-zone judgment, though he still strikes out a lot. Weaknesses: He loves to hit so much that his defense has not developed as quickly. But he has playable tools and should become a fine left fielder. His speed is average at best, and he'll have to watch his weight, as his body is a little thick. He's probably too patient a hitter for his own good. The Future: After the season he had as a 20-year-old in Double-A, Stenson is learning that he can be as good as he wants to be. The Red Sox will continue to try to push him by sending him to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Background: Curtice and Twins shortstop prospect Michael Cuddyer, the second high school teammates to get picked in the first round of the same draft, became the first first-round teammates to face each other in a game this season in the Midwest League. Strengths: Curtice is a power lefthander who held his own in full-season Class A at 18. He throws comfortably in the low 90s and can reach 95 mph. He has a good curveball and changeup and has shown good mental toughness so far. Weaknesses: As a young pitcher, consistency is the watchword for Curtice. His command is the most inconsistent part of his game, but his curve, his movement and even his velocity are inconsistent as well. Some also have reservations about his body and athleticism. The Future: Curtice, who should start off at Class A Sarasota in 1999, could move faster because pitching at the upper levels of the farm system has gotten thin. He was identified as untouchable in trade talks.
Background: Many considered Everett the best middle infielder in the 1998 draft. He attended North Carolina State for one year before transferring to South Carolina, starting every game in his college career. Strengths: Everett is a terrific defender, with soft hands, plus range and a plus arm. He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar player--his favorite athlete is Ty Cobb--with great instincts and the speed to steal bases. Weaknesses: How good Everett becomes will depend on how much he hits. He has added strength in the past few years but still needs to get bigger and stronger, both to improve his offense and to help him handle the grind of professional ball. The Future: Some wondered why the Red Sox took Everett when they have Nomar Garciaparra, but he's both a safe pick--he'll get to the big leagues, barring injury--and one with a high ceiling. Everett and Nomar in the middle of the infield would be a good combination.
Background: A potential local hero from Peabody, Mass., just north of Boston, Lomasney was a football and baseball star in high school. After being rated the organization's No. 14 prospect a year ago, he jumps forward based on his developing bat. Strengths: The Red Sox knew Lomasney was a good catcher, but he had a coming-out year with his bat, with great power numbers for the Florida State League. He is a gifted athlete with both the physical and mental tools for the catcher's job, and a body that will allow him to catch every day. He even has enough speed to steal bases. Weaknesses: Lomasney must continue his progress on offense. He still strikes out too much, though his plate discipline is improving. On defense, he just needs to get more consistent. The Future: The Sox find a lot to like in Lomasney, and he has established himself as the catcher of the future. He's slotted for Double-A Trenton next year.
Background: It's tempting to get impatient with Sadler, who has taken small steps forward since he was the organization's top prospect before the 1996 season. But he has been pushed and showed flashes in his big league debut this year. Strengths: Sadler is the most athletic player in the organization, a middle infielder with the tools to be a star. He has the skills to play second, shortstop or center field. Weaknesses: His fundamentals, both on offense and defense, still require some fine-tuning. He's still learning the strike zone and becoming more disciplined at the plate. He also can get too aggressive on the basepaths. The Future: The signing of Jose Offerman clouds the picture a bit, but Sadler should make the big league club, perhaps as a super utilityman. If not, don't give up. Go back and see how long it took Damion Easley to blossom--after the Angels gave up on him.
Background: Cho, the most promising of the players produced by the organization's forays into the Far East, went from pitching in Trenton for the Korean national team in 1996 to pitching for Trenton in 1998. His rapid ascent included making his big league debut in Fenway Park on the Fourth of July. Strengths: Cho is a strong, physical pitcher with a live arm and above-average command. He's aggressive and works both sides of the plate with an above-average fastball, slider and changeup. Weaknesses: After such an impressive start, the Sox probably moved Cho up too quickly. He's still learning how to get quality hitters out consistently. The Future: For a player just getting his feet wet, Cho's debut couldn't have been much better. He'll start out the 1999 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, but the Sox have shown that they have the confidence to use him in the big leagues.
Background: The organization's top prospect a year ago, Rose's ascension to the major league rotation was derailed by injury. He wasn't himself all spring or summer, though his year didn't officially end until midseason, when doctors found bone spurs and a hairline fracture in his elbow. He had averaged 165 innings a year in his first three professional seasons. Strengths: When healthy, Rose has the complete package of a front-of-the-rotation starter. He's aggressive and mixes a solid average fastball, two good breaking balls and a changeup well. His easy delivery would seem to bode well for bouncing back from his injury. Weaknesses: Again, the package is pretty complete. Rose just has to prove he is fully recovered, then that he can get big league hitters out. The Future: His elbow is said to be healthy, and Rose was rehabbing this fall. He will again go to spring training to win a spot in the big league rotation.
Background: The seventh overall pick in the 1993 draft, Nixon has endured more than his share of problems, struggling with his bat and injuries. He resuscitated his career in 1998. Strengths: Nixon is a complete player, especially with the bat, and has the speed to steal bases and run down balls in the outfield. He is aggressive and comes to play every day. His swing and bat speed have come back, and he is more comfortable at the plate. Weaknesses: Sometimes Nixon is too aggressive and hard on himself. He needs to stay back on pitches more and drive the ball the other way, especially playing in Boston. It's not clear if he has ideal power for a corner outfielder. The Future: When Nixon heard his name in trade talks before last season, he called Dan Duquette to say he wanted to play in Boston. He got his wish, including a start in the Division Series. He'll try for a full-time job in the spring.
Background: Liniak's steady progress continued in 1998 with a successful jump to Pawtucket after just a half-season at Trenton in 1997. He was invited to big league camp in spring training after Jeff Frye was injured. Strengths: Though his tools don't jump out at you, Liniak is a gamer who loves to play and will go the extra mile to get the most out of his ability. He's steady defensively and will be an above-average hitter. Weaknesses: The concern is whether Liniak will hit with enough power to stay at third, but he took a major leap forward in '98. His 17 homers were five more than his previous career total. He's still young, and his good contact should breed more power. The Future: Unless something shocking happens, Liniak will return to Pawtucket for another season, make a late-season major league debut and shoot for the big league job in 2000.
Background: Hillenbrand was a standout soccer and baseball player in high school. He played shortstop in high school, became a corner infielder after signing, then began a conversion to catcher in Australia last winter. He finished second in the Midwest League in hitting. Strengths: How far Hillenbrand goes likely will depend on whether he continues to hit the way he did at Class A Michigan this year, a quantum leap from his first season and a half. He puts the ball in play and doesn't swing at bad pitches, and he has good makeup. Weaknesses: It's hard to figure out where Hillenbrand will play on defense. Some scouts liked the way he played behind the plate in his first season there, while others didn't. He also may not have more than cripple power--he can crush bad pitches but not good ones. The Future: Depending on spring training, Hillenbrand could skip past Sarasota, where he spent a half-season in 1997, and head to Trenton.